Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) - full transcript

A Magistrate working in a distant outpost begins to question his loyalty to the empire.

[orchestra playing]

[soft chatter]


[horn blowing]

[crowd murmuring]

All the way from the capital.

[horse nickers]

Colonel Joll?

It's an honor to have you here.

Well, you... you must
be exhausted. Please.

[horse neighs]

Tell me, i-if you
don't mind me asking,

what... what are they for?

They protect one's eyes

against the glare of the sun.

They save one from squinting.

- Ah.
- Do you see?

No wrinkles.


Fewer headaches.

Yes, at home,
everyone is wearing them.

You would find them useful

out here in the desert.


Are you familiar with
these parts of the frontier?


Not with this part, no.

With the south,
but not with this part, not yet.

Well, it's not a good time
of the year to visit.

You must feel the heat.

I'm quite used to it, the heat.

I have leave due to me,

but I-I find myself
reluctant to take it.

One grows to be
a part of a place.

I'd feel like a foreigner
if I went back to the capital.

And the capital,
too, has changed,

I'm sure, since my time.

I need to make an early start
of my inspection.

Breakfast early, please,
first thing.

Yes, sir.

So if you will excuse me,

I need to get some rest.

I'll come by in the morning
and fetch you.

[overlapping chatter]

[animal bleats]


[rooster crows]

[baker] But a soldier?

They... They don't
usually send soldiers

on inspections, do they?

Mm, who's the inspector now?

[both laugh]

You're far too inquisitive,
my friend.

No, he's not a soldier.

He wears a uniform,
but he's not a soldier.

He's a policeman,
a colonel of the police,

very important person from
the Bureau of State Security.

Once in every generation,

without fail,
along the frontier,

there is an episode of hysteria
about the barbarians.

It's the consequence
of too much ease.

Why don't they leave us alone?

They have their own territories,
don't they?

We have to protect ourselves.

Protect ourselves, my dear?

Against what? Against whom?

Against them.

We protect ourselves
against wild animals,

against snakes.

If an angry bear
approaches you,

you'd kill it, Magistrate,
wouldn't you?

[laughs] No, my friends.

I-I will be quite content

to pass quietly away
and merit no more

than three lines
in the imperial gazette

that with nudge here
and a touch there,

I kept the world
on its course.

[insects chirping]

We ready to go?

I must tell you
that we don't have

proper facilities
for prisoners.

There's no need.

There's not much...
There's not much crime here,

and the penalty's usually
a fine or compulsory labor,

so we simply use
the old barracks.

[chuckles] Where we
also store provisions.

Just a minute.

Let me speak with them.

I know a little of the language.

[speaking local language]

I think it must be your glasses.

He's probably never
seen anything like them before.

He may think that you're blind.

[speaking local language]


Do you understand?

Show the Excellency.

- [raspy breath]
- Hmm.

It's his sister's boy.

They've come to get medicine.


All right.

Thank you.

- [speaking local language]
- Whatever you call it,

banditry, sheep stealing,

it really...
it doesn't amount to much.

These nomads,
barbarians, if you will,

will be gone in a month
back up into the mountains.

They migrate.
They're always on the move.

He says he came for medicine.

He may be telling the truth.
Who knows?

Who would have brought
an old man and a sick boy

along on a raiding party?

I will question them.

You can learn surprising things.

I'll bring one of my men along,

and I will need someone
to assist with the language.

Well, let me.
I-I'd be glad to help.

No, no.

You would find it tedious.

We have set procedures.

Uh, tell me,
wh-what are your procedures?


and pressure.

That is the only way
to get to the truth.

But how do you know

you are hearing the truth?

There is a certain tone.

A certain tone enters the voice.

You come to recognize it
with training and experience.

Can you tell
whether I am telling the truth?

You misunderstand.

I am speaking
of particular situations,

situations where I
am probing for the truth.

First you get lies.

First lies,

then pressure,

then more lies,

then more pressure...

then more lies, more pressure...

and then comes the break.

After the break,
more pressure...

and then at last the truth.

That is how you get it.

Pain is truth.

All else is subject to doubt.

No, that one says
that the very same pig

keeps breaking in to his garden
and damaging the produce,

and now he's not going
to give it back

until he's paid compensation.

Excellency, the pig
is worth a lot of money.

His garden is worth nothing,

It's a nothing
that has no proper fence.

- Be quiet. Be quiet.
- [door opens]

Everybody knows that he
doesn't have a proper title.

He can't put up a fence,

because he doesn't have
a proper title.

- Come on. Show him your title.
- Just be quiet, please.

- [boots echoing]
- Sir...

if I can speak
to the Excellency?

I have warned him many times
about his pig,

and he pays no attention.

Why must I suffer for his pig?

"His pig." You have his pig.

I have his pig,

and I am keeping it
until he pays for the damages.

Why should I pay?
Who says I should pay?

Give him back his pig.


And that is all.

[sifter shakes]



- Your bed's ready, sir.
- Mm-hmm.

- Anything more?
- No, thank you.

What is that?

This is... It's a child's shoe
from long ago.

- Shoe?
- Mm-hmm.

You're gonna keep it?




What does it say?

I have no idea.

It's old writing...

from the old days.

No one writes like this anymore.

[insects chirping]

[bird warbles]


[distant moan]


There's a letter
from the Colonel.


[horse neighs]

D-Did you see what happened?

[flies buzzing]

Close it.

Close it. Close it.

Tie it shut.

Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait a minute.


- [shuddering]
- What have they done to him?

A knife.

Just a little knife like this.


[speaks local word]

[repeats word]

Ah. He wants water.
Give it to him.


have that removed,
taken out of here immediately.

And what does this mean?

It means...

that we have
our first confession,

means that I am doing
what I was sent here to do.

It means that we are
beginning to understand

what is going on
on the border.

Today we have
the beginnings of information

and now are in the position
to go out and gather more.

- I...
- First thing tomorrow morning,

I shall be taking out
a party with that boy...

yes, that same boy...
as my guide.

I think he will be a good guide.

He knows by now what I want.

As for you, it would be helpful

if you would put together
some pack animals

and some provisions
for a week or so

and a dozen of your men,

good men
familiar with the country.

What kind of information,
sheep stealing? Smuggling?

Are you killing old men
for sheep now?

Record of the interrogation.

Come away. Come away.

Did you really tell the officer
that your clan is arming itself?

Did you really say
that there will be

a great war against the Empire?

It's stupid.

Why do you tell such lies?

[speaks local language]

I think he's very sick, sir,

very sick and very sore.

W-With no disrespect, Colonel,

you've never campaigned on this
inhospitable frontier before

You have no guide except a child
who's terrified of you.

As for them,
you cannot rely on them.

They're conscripts.
Most of them have never been

more than five miles
from this settlement.

The barbarians
whom you are chasing will...

will vanish into the desert
before you catch sight of them.

They live here.
This is their land.

They know every inch of it.
You do not.

I have orders to obey.

May I remind you, Colonel,
that if you get lost,

it will be up to me to find you

and bring you back
to civilization.

Of course.

Don't stake your life
on my maps, sir.

I'm not a surveyor.

I patched them together

from tales told to me
by travelers.

I've never been
where you're going.

I earnestly advise you
not to go.

[insects chirping]

[bird warbling]

[flies buzz]



Why must you...

send people...

with no... no experience

of the frontier t...

to investigate...

unrest on the frontier?


Why can't you just...

Why can't you just leave, um...

well enough...



[horn blowing]

Keep moving.

[insects chirping]

[knock on door]


[Star sighs]

Come in.

I thought you were one of them.

They give me the shivers.

Isn't he your friend?

The one...


Can I fetch you
something to drink?


Is there nothing
I can do for you?

Something on your mind?



They will soon be gone.

Things will return to normal.

I wish I could believe you.


[boys speaking local language]

- [baby murmuring]
- [flies buzzing]

Give them a shovel.

Let them dig a latrine,
at least.

[baby murmurs]

Sir, Colonel Joll is... is here.

We will be leaving today.


So soon?

Yes, we have completed
our investigations.

Now I must hurry back
and make my report.

Anything I can do
to facilita...

No, no. I believe we have
everything we came for.

Cup of tea.

And your inquiries, Colonel,

among the nomad peoples...

have they been successful?


I think I can say
we've had some success,

particularly when you consider

that this is only part
of a great enterprise.

Similar investigations
are being carried out

elsewhere in the frontier
in a very coordinated fashion

with the cooperation

of the various
frontier administrators.

Well, that is good.

And is it too early to reveal

whether we have anything to fear
from these barbarians this year?

May we still sleep securely
in our beds?

Since all is not well here...

and by no stretch
of the imagination

can we say
that all is well here

in your little sliver
of the frontier...

I expect further measures
will be taken.

- I want everything cleaned up!
- Yes, sir.

I want everything
as it was before at once!

What are you doing?

What are you doing?!
Let that woman go!

Right. Sir.

Let all these people go.
Let them go.

Give them their things.
Let 'em go.

You all go on.


[soldiers muttering]

Out! Come on!

- You heard what he said.
- What are you doing?

I want... I want these people
out of here!

- Go on.
- Out of here right away!

Go on! Go!

I want them gone.

[wind blowing]

It's late to be out-of-doors.

[wind blowing]


[Naim] Sir?

[crutches tapping]

[girl panting]

[speaking local language]

I can see.

Please, sit down.

[speaks local word]

[breathing heavily]


Can you look at me?

This is how I look.

[wind blowing]

Where do you live?

I live.

We do not permit vagrants
in the town.

You must have somewhere to live.

Otherwise, you must go
back to your own people.

Do you understand?


I offer that you should...

come and work here.

Um, either that
or go back to your people.

You cannot beg in the street.

I cannot permit that.

You must have a place to live.

If you work here...

you can sleep here, too.

I can go?

Yes, go if you want to.

[breathing heavily]

[soft chatter]

Come. Come inside.

[fire crackling]

Let me see.

They broke it.

My, um...

[speaks local word]

Your ankle.

My ankle.

Other one, too.

[water splashes]

[water splashes]

[Magistrate gasps]


[girl sighs]



[birds chirping]

[embers crackling]

Welcome, sir.

The Magistrate's waiting.

- Thank you.
- Company, halt.


So no trouble
on the way here, then?


Nothing worth mentioning.

I think we were followed
for a while by barbarians,

but that was all.

Are you sure
they were barbarians?

What else could they have been?

At brigade headquarters,
they're saying

there is to be
a general offensive

against the barbarians
in the spring.

The plan is to move them back
all along the frontier,

back into the mountains.

[laughs] They can't be serious.

The people who... whom you
call barbarians are nomads.

They will never
permit themselves

to be bottled up
in the mountains.

Well, sorry to be frank.

Isn't that what war is about?

Compelling a choice on someone
who would not otherwise make it?



Tell me, sir, as someone
who knows the region...

why are these barbarians
so dissatisfied?

What is all the trouble about?

Well, what is the trouble about?

Ahem. Well, there was no trouble
that... that I know of...

until outsiders
started interfering.

We had peace.

We kept to ourselves.
They kept to themselves.

But it's... it's all changed now.

It will take years
to patch up the damage

that Colonel Joll did
in the space of a week.


[laughs] You smile,

but, uh,
I'll tell you something.

We, you and I,

think of this country as ours,
as part of the Empire.

We say to ourselves we reclaimed
the land from the desert,

we planted it,
we built our homes here,

but that's not how they see it.

They still see us
as visitors, transients.

They say to one another,
"Be patient.

One day, these foreigners
will pack up and leave."

[chuckles] "They will
never last in the desert."

But we're not going to leave.


Are you sure?

The frontier towns are the first
line of defense of the Empire,

so th-there's no question
of abandoning them.

- [spoon scraping]
- [chewing]

[water splashing]

[soft crying]

[Magistrate sighs]

What do you think
they're doing up there?

What do you think? The usual.

Doesn't usually
bring girls up there.

He's strict about that.

Well, he's getting old.

Ah, he's still
a very good-looking man.

Have you got your eye on him?

Have you got your eye on him,

- [laughs]
- That's enough now.

Come on. Bed.

Oh! [laughs]

That's it. Bedtime.


[tub clangs]

- Towel.
- Huh? Towl.

- Towel.
- Tow... Towel.

- Towel.
- Towel.



- Towel.
- Towel.


Can you come up, please?


Yes. Yes, now, in a minute.

Wh-What is that?

It's where they touch me.

Where they touched you?

D-Does it hurt?

What did they do to you?

Tell me.

[humming a melody]

[humming ends]

In his report,
Colonel Joll wrote

that one of the prisoners
died afterwards.

Do you remember that prisoner?

Do you know what they
did to him, who he was?

We heard he went crazy

and attacked them.


He attacked them.

We had to take him out

He was breathing strangely,

very deep and very fast.

Then he died the next day.

He was the one they questioned
the longest, sir.

He had someone with him?

His daughter.

His daughter.

What happened to her?

She was questioned, too.

I heard her crying.

She was in pain.

They broke her feet, I think.

Did they do that
in... in front of him,

in front of her father?

Yes, sir.

They did something
to her eyes, didn't they?

Sir, there were a lot
of prisoners to take care of.

I-I know she had
a bad time with her feet,

but the eyes...

we didn't know about that
'til later.

[water splashing]

You should have told me.

You should tell me everything.

[water sloshes]



[breathing heavily]

And this...

It was a fork.

Kind of fork.

They put it in a fire
until it was hot.

Then they touch me with it.

They held my eyes open.

They said they'd
burn my eyes out.

After that,
I could not see anymore.

I can see
around the edges, yes...

but not in middle.

There is blur.

What do you feel

towards the men
who did this to you?

I'm tired of talking.


You aren't happy
with me here, are you?

You only have to say the word,
and I will take you back.

Is that what you want?

I can't promise to take you
back to your family.

I don't know where they are.

Do you want me to take you back?



Yes, sir.

What are we waiting for, then?

The girl is coming along.

Was that your question?

Yes, sir.

We'll be gone
no more than a week,

10 days at most.

[horse snorts]

[animal warbles]

[horse nickers]

[girl] Thank you.

- Yeah.
- [laughs]

[both laugh]

[bird screeches]

[horse snorts]

[water splashing]


[breathing heavily]

[wind blowing]

[wind howling]

Bring in the horses! Quickly!

That's a horse there!



[tent flapping]

[girl humming a melody]

[continues humming]

[wind blowing]

[horse snorts]

[horse snorts]



[wind blowing]

[soldier] How much longer
before we...

Before we find
what we're looking for?


The next day perhaps.

Don't you know these parts, sir?

No, I've not been here before...

not this far.

[tapping wood]


There's people ahead.

[horse snorts]


There's no sign of them!

They've gone, sir!

No tracks?!


[tent flaps]

[animal warbles]

[animal warbles]

[wind blowing]

Come on.

Whoa, whoa.

[horse snorts]

Come... Come forward slowly.

Then take my horse.

Wait. Wait. Wait.
No. No, no, no, no.

All right.

Fetch the crutches.

Come down off here.


Help her. Help her.

They're here in front of us.

Wait here. Wait here.

[horse snorts]

[speaking local language]

You must speak with them.

Tell them why we're here.

Tell them your story.

I want you
to tell them the truth.

You really want me to tell them?


tell them what you like.

I have now done
what I said I would do.

Let me say what I...

what I want.

What I want from my heart...

is for you to come
to return to the town with me.

Of your own choice.

I want you to come back with me.

You understand?

This... This is what I want.


[flies buzzing]


Do not want
go back to that place.

[footsteps approaching]

I have...

I have... I have brought some...

gifts that I would
like you to have.

Ask them if we may buy
one of their horses.

Say I will pay in silver.

Silver is the... for horse he
does not take away from you.

He does not take away my horse.

He take silver instead.

[speaking local language]

[girl grunts]

[rider blows]

[horse neighs]

Where are you taking me?


[footsteps pattering]

Why have I been kept waiting?

What have you done with my men?

Is there anything
I can help you with?

May I speak with Colonel Joll?

Where have you been?

I've been on a journey.

It pains me that I was not here
when you arrived

to offer you hospitality.

You've been treasonously
consorting with the enemy.

Do you deny it?

We have no enemy
that I know of,

unless we ourselves
are the enemy.

Who gave you permission
to leave your post?

That is a private matter.

You will have to take
my word for it.

I do not intend to discuss it.

I would like to speak
with Colonel Joll.

Colonel Joll's not here.

Colonel Joll is out
conducting operations

to correct the situation
that you've allowed to develop.



I'd like to read to you

from some of the depositions
I have gathered

since I arrived in this town...

so you have some idea

of the gravity
of the charges against you.

I quote.

"His conduct in office
left much to be desired,

his decisions characterized
by arbitrariness,

and he maintained
no regular system

of accounting for monies."

Inspection of your accounts

revealed many irregularities.

[Magistrate chuckles]

"Despite being
principal administrator,

he started a liaison
with a street woman

by the common soldiers."


A figure in obscene jokes.

Let me read to you
from one more.

"On the first of March,

I was given orders
to prepare for a journey

into barbarian territory.

Not until we set off
was I told

that a young barbarian woman
would be accompanying us.

And at no point was I warned

that we would be making contact
with the barbarians...

and negotiating with them."


Have you any idea
how bad it looks

when we have to come

and clean up
the local administrations?

It isn't even our job.

I will defend myself
in a proper court of law.

Will you?

No one would dare
say those things to my face.

Who is responsible
for the claim

a-about the so-called
street woman?

Let me see...


Is that all? I would like...

I would like to wash.

I hope that you
will allow me to wash!

[birds chirping]

[hammering outside]

[chatter outside]

[horn blowing]

[crowd murmuring]




[crowd quiets]

[prisoners grunting softly]

[sword scraping]


Get on your knees.

[grunting, moaning]

[charcoal scraping]

[prisoner groans]

[crowd chattering]

[blows landing]

[prisoners grunting]

- Beat them!
- Come on! Beat the animals!

Beat the animals!

[crowd chattering]

Beat him!

[crowd murmuring]

- [clapping]
- [chattering]

That's the way.

[clapping and cheering]



No! No! No! No!

You! You are
depraving these people!

You... [groans]

[groans] No!


No! No!

Wait! Wait!

You broke...

Wait! Wait. Wait.

You've broken my arm.

Just wait.

No, not with that,
not with that hammer.

You would not use
a hammer on a beast.

Look. These are men!



[blow strikes]


[door clangs]

[lock clicking]



[girl humming a melody]

[metal clinking]

[stops humming]

[Magistrate breathing raggedly]

Among the items
found in your apartment

was this wooden chest.

Its contents are unusual.

It contains approximately
300 slips of white poplar wood.

The surfaces are written on

in an unfamiliar script.

Now, a reasonable inference

is that these slips
contain messages

passed between yourself
and other parties.

It remains for you to explain

from whom are the messages,

to whom are the messages.

Permit me.

I am sorry
I have to send bad news.

The soldiers came
and took your brother away.

I have been to the fort
every day

to plead for his return.

Yesterday, they sent out
a man to speak with me.

He says your brother
is no longer here.

He says he has been ta...

he has been taken away.

Do not tell your mother,

but join me in praying for him.

Now, let... let's see...

what this one says.

Um, I went to fetch your...

Ah. I went to fetch
your brother.

They showed me into a room
where he lay

sewn up in a sheet.


Th-There were bruises
all over his body,

and his feet were broken
and swollen.

"What's happened to him?"
I asked the soldier.

"I don't know," he said.

As you see,
it contains a single character.

It is the...
It is the character...

barbarian character for "war."

Although it can also stand
for "vengeance,"

and if... if you turn it
upside down like this,

it can mean...


There's no way of knowing
in what sense it is intended.

That is a part
of barbarian c-cunning.

It's the same
with the rest of these.

Slips, they can be read
in many ways.

They can be read
as a plan of war,

or they can read as a history
of the last years of the Empire.

There's no knowing.

Thank you.

I'm finished.

You have no idea how tiresome
your behavior is.

You are the only official
on the frontier

from whom we have not had
the fullest cooperation.

When I arrived back,

I had decided that as soon
as I had the answers from you

to a simple few questions...

you would be free
to go back to your old life

and your concubines.

However, you seem
to have a new ambition.

You want to make
a name for yourself

as the one just man.

You are simply a clown.

You are dirty.

You stink.

They can smell you a mile away.

You want to get your name
into the history books,


This is the border.

This is nowhere.

There is no history here.

People are not interested

in the history
of the back of beyond.

We will end these troubles,

we will put down the enemy,

and that will be the end of it.

The enemy?

These pitiable creatures
of yours,

are they the enemy
that I must fear, Colonel?

No, you... you are
the enemy, Colonel.


You are an obscene torturer.

You... You deserve to be hanged.

Now to business.

I would like
a statement from you

on everything that passed
between you and the barbarians

on your recent
and unauthorized visit.

We are waiting.

I refuse.

You refuse?

Very well.

Then our interview is over.

He is yours.

[Magistrate breathing heavily]




[crowd muttering, laughing]




Pull him up.





And what do you
want to say to me?

That... That nothing passed

between the barbarians
and myself

of a military nature.

It was a private affair.

I returned the girl
to her people...

nothing more.


[wailing continues]

[wailing stops]

No chance of going in
to my apartments

just for a minute,

get a few of my things?

Sir, I can't.


I really can't.

It's fine.

Colonel Joll
and his expeditionary force

have been out in the desert
for a long time, haven't they?

Since when?

Since August, sir.


You must be worried.

[bird chirps]


Well, one mustn't take
the barbarians lightly.



Your... Your daughter's gone,

leaving you with the boy?

Ah, he's no trouble.

So many people have left,

- all my girls...
- [coins jingle]

your clerk, Naim.

They took the east road.

Just 'til it settles down,
they say.


My rooms are empty.


But they won't let me in.

I'll find room for you.

You're an angel.


You're always somewhere else.

She would say the same thing...

your barbarian girl.

She said you were
always somewhere else.

She couldn't understand you.

She didn't know
what you wanted from her.

I didn't know
the two of you were intimate.

Oh, we talked.

Sometimes she used to cry
and cry and cry.

What bird
has the heart to sing...

in a thicket of thorns?

Oh, no, it wasn't
what they did to her.

It was you.

You made her very unhappy.


I-I did?

Yeah, didn't you know that?


[door opens]

- Ah.
- Yeah.

- Why not?
- That's what I said to him.

- [sighs]
- Your move.

- Drawing.
- Ah.

[chuckles] So...


You're growing fat again.

What happened to your work?

I am a prisoner awaiting trial.

Prisoners awaiting trial

are not required
to work for their feed.

That is the law.

We have no record of you.

H-How could you be a prisoner?

Do we have a record of this man?

No, sir, we don't.

Then you must be a free man.

The gates are open.

Go on. Leave if you wish.

Just... Just a minute.

There's something that I would
like to know before I leave.

Forgive me if the question
seems impudent.

But I would like to ask...

how do you eat afterwards?

After you've been...

working with people?


I'm sincere.

- [sighs]
- Do you...

Do you find it easy
to take food afterwards?

I would imagine
one wants to wash one's hands,

to... to clean off the blood,

but to sit with one's
family and friends,


Get out of here.

Get out of here,
you fucking old lunatic.

Get out!

Go and die somewhere,
you fucking traitor.

[horn blowing]

[crowd murmuring]

- [flies buzzing]
- [crowd gasping]

[crowd murmuring]

[flies buzzing]

"This withdrawal will be
only a temporary measure.

Caretaker force will remain

which will be adequate
for all routine duties.

Relevant orders are given
on imperial authority

and are part of a general
scaling down of operations

along the frontier
for the duration of the winter."

Thank you all...

for your unforgettable

- [gunfire]
- [screaming]

Okay, let's go!

That's the last of the grain!



Bring her! Come on!

This way!

- Get back!
- Get in here.

- Get back, or I'll shoot!
- [horse neighs]

Hah! Hah!


Get off!

[crowd quiets]

[birds chirping]

Officer Mandel!

[running footsteps]

Where is Officer Mandel?

We must have fresh horses.

Who needs horses?

The Colonel.
We... We need fresh horses.

Is he here?

We need fresh horses.

There are no horses.

There's nothing.


- Ch-Check that way.
- Okay.

[running footsteps]

[running footsteps]

[running footsteps]

We need to hurry, sir!

[rocks thumping]

- [driver] Hah! Hah!
- [reins snap]


[running footsteps]

[boys laughing]

[soft chatter]

[children chattering]

[boy laughs]

[wind blowing]

[distant rumbling]

[distant hoofbeats pounding]

[hoofbeats thundering]

[instrumental playing]

[music ends]